Supporting Persons with Disabilities: An Interview with Lizzie Kiama

Lizzie Kiama, Director of Gender and Disability at This-Ability Consulting

LMG: What does “break barriers, open doors to realize an inclusive society for all” mean to you?

Lizzie Kiama: The statement to me means removing all obstacles that prevent access to opportunities for self-development of particularly persons with disabilities. Accessing education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure such as transport and technology, and other basic human rights such as food, shelter and security. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to accessing opportunities is attitude; negative cultural attitudes towards disability in a particular society are the main reason children with disabilities are kept hidden, they then do not have access to basic education and healthcare, they grow up and become adults with disabilities who cannot fend for themselves, becoming beggars or hawkers and doing menial jobs.

I also believe ones attitude has the ability to change ones circumstance, despite being born with a disability or having acquired a disability later in life, I believe we all have the power within ourselves to make life better for ourselves and our families.  Although, it is important to note that it is much harder for the uneducated disabled person in rural Kenya to live a dignified life, only because they live a life of exclusion and discrimination. “Break barriers, open doors to realize an inclusive society for all” for me, only means that there remains a lot to be done. Development organizations working in rural areas on issues such as Education, Health and Economic Empowerment are in a position of power, they can make a difference in many disabled peoples lives if they choose to make a conscious effort at inclusion. If I could address them, I would say to approach the communities they work with and focus on practical, sustainable, inclusive methods. Make sure the disabled children are going to school; invest in informal learning for the adults too. There are a many projects that can also serve to stimulate an individual’s intelligence.

LMG: What is the most important progress you have witnessed in implementing disability-sensitive policies and/or promoting public awareness?

Kiama: I have realized people are not inherently evil; everyone wants everyone else to live a good life, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their lives. With Disability policies, I find that it is a very personal experience, and if you come at it from a human perspective, I have found people to always be receptive, and they are often shocked at how little they know about the Disability world.  My approach to Disability issues is that they are dynamic and can impact you in one-way or another. For example, my Women & Wheels Project is a wheelchair rugby development workshop that incorporates sessions on gender-based violence, health, sexual and reproductive rights targets women and girls of different abilities. It has captured a lot of attention because (I think) by not focusing on Disability issues but on issues that generally affect all women and girls; we are actually tackling issues of Disability in a roundabout way. We are practicing inclusion, and as the women interact and have fun, they are not disabled. They are all women.

LMG: From your perspective, what remaining challenges or obstacles are of highest priority?

Kiama: Personally, I feel access to education for children with disabilities is of highest priority. It is my opinion that tackling issues from the root is the only to ensure we are not always chasing our tails. I also think we need to change our laws to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. After countries that ratified the UNCRPD and enacted it into their laws, we were all hopeful that things would change for the disabled people. In Kenya, for example we have a very progressive Disability Act but there is no enforcement. I think for a law to be passed, there should be penalties that follow, should the said law be broken. The Disability Act for example has a requirement that all organizations reserve 5% employment positions for people with disabilities, this has been in effect for almost 5 years, and yet you can count the number of disabled people in meaningful employment positions. Some organizations remain oblivious to this law yet they are supposed to up to date with the current labor laws. I think if we borrowed a leaf from the American Disability Act, we would see more changes in our society.

LMG: As we approach the post-2015 time period, what actions do you recommend for leaders like yourself to take to encourage support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and to increase awareness of gains to be derived from the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life?

Kiama: I would recommend when one is working towards the integration of persons with disabilities, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal is to have a fully inclusive society, this means that we all want people with different abilities to live together and to support each other in accessing opportunities. Political, social, economic and cultural life does not exist in a bubble; we all contribute to each other’s well-being and we should all find a way to exist together. As leaders in the Disability world, we need to find ways of including non-disabled people to further our cause for equality, dignity and justice, we all need to bring our individual talents to the table which can only ensure results and make our work efficient, sustainable and truly inclusive.